As a Man Utd fan, sympathising with anything Arsenal is pretty rare – I’m more fond of poking fun at them and then laughing at outraged Arsenal fans who take jibes too seriously (note: Rocky and ArseBlogger, I’m talking about you two particularly).
But you’ve got to feel for the Gunners – the move to the new stadium was supposed to kickstart a new campaign where they had brought in a world-class defender and a crack shot midfielder. Losing Cole has hurt them, and they’re still hurting from losing Vieira. Baptista will take time to settle but Arsenal don’t have that much time, and they need him to be the midfield strongman they’ve all said he can be.
They’ve had their share of injuries this season – in contrast, Manchester United, with a threadbare squad, have stayed injury-free (knock wood) with only Park Ji-Sung out (and the odd niggles to Neville). Yesterday Arsenal lost Gallas, and he joins Rosicky on the injury list and two of Arsenal’s first-teamers are out injured.
Senderos should replace Gallas, and Ljungberg will probably play in Rosicky’s spot, but how will Arsenal fare against Hamburg? Their last two home matches have been strange – a 3-0 win over Liverpool which disguised the fact that the front men (including the regular midfielders) aren’t scoring, and a stuttering 1-1 draw against Newcastle reminded us that Arsenal are too shaky at the back to win any titles or cups this season.
It can’t always be the refs, or cheating opposition, or just pure bad luck – Arsenal’s luck should change today, and while a win here doesn’t guarantee them progress, a win here coupled with points for CSKA Moscow will mean that Arsenal just need a result from their Porto trip in two weeks time to get to the next round.
Wenger knows the importance of this match – losing is not an option.
A few words on Hamburg as well – they’ve been in awful form this season, although they have van der Vaart back in the lineup. He was good against England, but Arsenal are not as defensive and plodding as England were (have you seen a more negative 4-3-3?).
What formation will Wenger play? 4-5-1 or 4-4-2, with van Persie (who’s fit, I’ve heard) playing off Henry?
I’ve been saying for several weeks that Arsenal are too slow and ponderous in posession and that they lack the fight and direct play to grab a result. Well, it’s crunch time, and this is as big a game for Arsenal’s season as the Old Trafford match was.
That was a tougher opposition, but Arsenal won that by fighting hard. Can they do it against Hamburg?
An early goal, and they should thrash Hamburg (although they could still drop to the UEFA Cup in two weeks time). No early goal, and we’ll then see what stuff Arsenal are really made of.